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What is the Dish Called Poke?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2016
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Poke is a Hawaiian dish which consists of seasoned raw fish. It is a very popular food in the Hawaiian islands, where it is treated as a hallmark of local cuisine, and in some areas it has jumped the border, appearing in food targeted at tourists as well. Hawaii also hosts an annual poke festival, where people compete with recipes to celebrate this classic Hawaiian food. In Hawaii, many restaurants offer poke, especially if they cater to locals, and it is also commonly made at home for casual consumption and social events like parties.

This dish is designed as an appetizer, leading some people to refer to it as a sort of fish salad. It is typically served in modest amounts which are designed to whet the appetite and raise interest in the rest of the meal, and it may be set out at buffets and parties as a snack food. The best poke is made with fresh fish, although some cooks also use fish which has been flash frozen, and a wide variety of fish may be used, although tuna is a particularly popular ingredient.

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In Hawaiian, “poke” (pronounced “POH-kay”) means “to slice or cut.” As you might imagine, the fish used in poke is cut into small pieces, typically cubes, although adventurous cooks may get more daring. The fish is seasoned with ingredients like soy sauce, green onions, kukui nut relishes, and so forth, and the poke often includes seaweed as well. Vegetarians don't have to be left out; poke can be made with tofu, too.

Polynesians have been eating fish in a variety of forms for centuries, and it is safe to assume that some sort of seasoned raw fish dish has been eaten on the Hawaiian islands for a very long time. However, poke really rose to prominence in the 1970s, when adventurous Hawaiian chefs began exploring Asian cuisine, generating a version of poke which is very influenced by traditional Japanese cooking. Around this time, Sam Choy began hosting the annual poke festival, popularizing the dish.

Poke is one of the few traditional Hawaiian dishes which has bridged the gap between locals and tourists. Many other traditional Hawaiian dishes like Spam musubi are really only enjoyed by the local community, because they reflect an acquired taste and a complex cultural heritage. Poke, on the other hand, appeals to tourists because it has a light, Asian-inspired flavor and it integrates seafood, and its long established place in Hawaiian culture ensures that it will remain part of local cuisine for the foreseeable future.

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